The Truth About Rejection…From the Neptune City-Saturn Town Vaults

9 Aug

Since “rejection,” in all of its many manifestations, will remain a universally shared experience of our fellow brothers and sisters who so beautifully compose this wonderful, rare, and incredibly special gift of existence, it is important to define the experience of rejection in the proper context–seeing it more as a strengthening challenge to ascend, rather than a devastating blow dealt by the “rampaging Hulk” of endless defeat.

It occurred to me that I had previously asked a number of established artists about rejection (among other topics) a few years ago, in the pages of Monmouth University’s college newspaper The Outlook. I would like to now share excerpts of past impressions on the topic of rejection from respected animators Everett Peck (Duckman, Squirrel Boy, Extreme Ghostbusters) and Joe Murray (Rocko’s Modern Life, Camp Lazlo), as well as from hilarious comedian Mary Jo Pehl (Mystery Science Theater 3000). 

The full interviews, including ones with filmmaker/cartoonist Heather McAdams and comic book artist Greg Hyland , may be found in the “Neptune City-Saturn Town” archives for the month of February (if anyone would like to check them out).

[from “A Visual Cosmos: An Interview with American Artist Everett Peck,” The Outlook Dec 9th, 2009]

Peck: Being an Illustrator is like any other artist, you are always subject to rejection on one level or another. You just have to throw it off and keep going. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you, it does.  A friend of mine told me a story about when he was starting out.  He was making the rounds to several art directors in New York City.  He was returning from a particularly harsh criticism of his work and in a fit of despair he tossed his whole portfolio in a trashcan!  He went back to his apartment and started over.  He went on to be quite successful. The point is you’ve got to believe in yourself and keep going even when you get a sucky response to your work. When I was teaching I always told my students the most important thing to develop is a personal point of view, a way of looking at the world that is a true expression of your inner feelings and attitude. Everything else, technique, marketing, etc. follows that.

[from “An Animation Rebel: Cartoonist Joe Murray Shares His Time And Thoughts,” The Outlook March 31st, 2010]

Murray: Rejection is part of the learning process (and artists who never get rejected, in my opinion, never grow). I initially was trying to get a comic strip syndicated. I had a whole file drawer full of rejection letters from pitching about 6 different comic strips. But each one got better over time, and I firmly believe that it gave me the know how to create characters that work by the time Nickelodeon asked me to do a series. You always look back as rejections as stepping stones. The only failure is to quit trying.

[from “Wisdom of A Comedian: An Interview with Mystery Science Theater 3000 Alum Mary Jo Pehl,” The Outlook Feb 3rd, 2010]

Pehl: Don’t take it personally! Forget about it and move on!  There are times when an editor or project curator might have valuable criticism or insight, but more often than not, they are just incredibly busy people who are just moving things off their desk (or computer), so they might not have considered the piece very much. So just move on.  Learn from your experience if you’re able; but try to distinguish input from people who get what you’re trying to do and support you, and the multitudes of voices who are trying to shut you down with various ill-considered or silly input. 

For instance, many years ago I was commissioned to write a one-act play.  So I did. It was about three sisters who were trying to come to terms with the death of the child of one of the women.  The play had a reading at a regional playwrighting organization, and anyone was welcome to attend.  In the feedback session that followed, one fellow stood up and said that he wished there had been a dog in the play.  This was completely irrelevant to anything in the play, and that’s the sort of thing that when you’re first starting you starting thinking, ohmygod, why didn’t I have a dog in the play?!  Then, if you’re lucky, you start realizing some people don’t get it. And that’s fine.  Because other people will get it!

So, as you can imagine, my experience with rejection is myriad. Two instances come to mind: I submitted some work to some publication or perhaps a book anthology. The editor rejected my work but then asked if any of my former MST3K colleagues might be interested.  As if I were supposed to coordinate it. Terribly insulting.  It’s one thing if you’re not keen on my work, but please don’t ask me to be your secretary to people who’s work you prefer.  I once submitted some stories to a book anthology and the editor remarked only on my brightly colored envelope and nice handwriting. Argh!  So don’t waste your time, move on, keep working and love what you do. 



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